Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What is Circle of Hope?

I wrote the following  for The Dialogue, the newsletter of the church where I serve, First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ of St. Joseph, MO.

For about a year now, the name Circle of Hope has shown up on our church calendar on the second Monday evening of each month.  FCC members have naturally asked since we have a women’s circle called Circle of Grace if this is a new women’s circle?  Unfortunately it is not another women’s circle, but fortunately for our community, it is a non-profit organization working with families containing individuals with physical and mental health issues.  Among the many services they offer, they meet once a month at our church building to offer a support group, “Focus Empowerment Group,” for parents raising children with physical, mental and/or emotional health needs.  They have dinner together, and then the children have their own session while the parents get to share their stories and struggles with one another.

The FCC Administrative Board voted in 2009 to allow Circle of Hope to meet in our building, because there is a great need for mental health care and support of families who have children with mental health needs.  I have gotten to know a few of these parents who somehow manage to work, hold a family together and raise multiple children, some with and some without special mental, physical and emotional needs.  They are often exhausted from caring for their special needs child and the once-a-month meeting may be the only time they get a break and can interact socially with other adults.  As with any support group, they benefit from sharing their stories with other parents who know the struggles they face.  Circle of Hope provides them with a meal, transportation, child care and most of all an opportunity to feel they are not alone in their struggles.

If your family or a family you know is struggling to raise a child with special physical, mental or emotional needs, I urge you to give Circle of Hope a try.  You can call them at 816-671-9190, or visit their website You can also find them on Facebook by searching for “focusfamilysupport.” 

Offering meeting space to a group like Circle of Hope is an important ministry that our church can offer to the community.  We have a church building that contains more space than we use-- 90% of the building goes unused most of the week.  We may not have the funds to contribute to worthwhile organizations in our community or to start our own, but we certainly have unused space!  It is simply good stewardship of our resources for First Christian to share our space with groups that make the kind of difference Circle of Hope does.  

Of course, Circle of Hope is not the first community organization we have hosted in our church.  The Alzheimer’s Association has maintained an office on the third floor of our building for a number of years providing essential support to families caring for a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease.  Later this month, we are hosting an orientation workshop for Dream Seekers of St. Joseph, a new organization that provides mentors to people looking to break out of poverty.  Once upon a time, FCC also hosted Alcoholics Anonymous groups and other organizations.

There is always a temptation for churches to shut out the community around them and forbid the use of their building by outside groups.  Sometimes churches give in to this temptation because doing so is an inconvenience and other times they do so out of a misguided sense of the church building as a museum that must be kept free of contamination.  Of course the church’s property should be respected and groups should be considerate of church events, but in my experience community groups are usually so grateful for the free space that they will gladly respond to all such concerns. 

A church refusing to share its building with outside groups is essentially idolatry—an idolatry of church buildings—spending more energy, attention and money on a building than upon the God who calls people to share what they have with others.  As with all things, the people who make up a church must ask the question, “Does this building belong to me or to God?”  If church people answer the former, then they have not read the story of Jesus Christ well.  As Paul said, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.”

I am proud to serve a congregation that has the “same mind” as Christ Jesus when it comes to sharing our building.  The lives changed for the better by these groups are a part of the ministry we offer to the community around us.

Grace and Peace,

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Great Editorial about Royal Family Kids Camp

My thanks to the editorial page of the St. Joseph News-Press (who'd thought I'd ever say that?) for last Saturday's editorial about First Christian Church of St. Joseph's ministry to abused and neglected children: Royal Family Kids Camp.

2 Prayers for the New Year

I wrote the following  for The Dialogue, the newsletter of the church where I serve, First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ of St. Joseph, MO.

At the end of October, we as a church ended our stewardship campaign with Pledge Sunday.  Although our focus in stewardship tends to be about money—and justly so, since money can be such an addictive idol that takes our attention away from God, being a steward of our time and energy when it comes to our relationship with God also matters.  One of the things I asked church members to commit to was daily prayer for our church.  32 members made that commitment, and this is the model prayer I supplied them with:

A Daily Prayer for First Christian Church 
Loving God, please help First Christian Church of St. Joseph to share your inclusive welcome with all of your children.  Inspire the church members—myself included!—to new depths of service to our community.  Give us the eyes and ears to experience your love in new and exciting ways as we become the church you desire us to be.  In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray these words.  Amen

Let this column be a reminder to those 32 to keep up the praying, and even if you miss a day or two don’t stop.  I confess to missing a day now and then myself, but I have taped this prayer on my bathroom mirror and pray it most every morning.  I cannot quantify the effect it has upon First Christian, but I do know that I have felt a change.  I feel more attentive to the work of God’s Spirit in the life of our church.  I feel less anxious about its future.  I feel that my attention is more on where it should always be—upon God, rather than upon so many other distractions. 

If you did not commit to pray daily for your church, I urge you, as your minister, to do so now.  We can always use more prayer!  If the members of FCC will devote this small amount of time each day to praying a prayer like this one and each member feels the sense of internal change I have described, then I believe we will have a membership more focused upon God, less anxious and more attentive to the work of the Spirit.  That cannot help but be a good thing for our church!

Since we are talking about prayer, let me share one with you by Sharon Watkins, the General Minister and President of our denomination, The Christian Church,Disciples of Christ.  Dr. Watkins, a dynamic preacher and gifted minister, will speak at our church on October 14.  That weekend our region (most of theDOC churches in Missouri) will have their regional assembly, and Dr. Watkins is one of the keynote speakers.  She will hang around on Sunday morning and preach at our church.  She offered the following prayer for our churches.  I encourage you to take a moment and pray it for First Christian Church of St. Joseph:

O God of infinite creativity . . .
At the beginning of this New Year – winter for so many – the rich brown earth is even now preparing to burst forth with a spring of possibilities and new life.
Though the human eye cannot see it, you continue to bless the earth with new beginnings.
We praise you!
Bless us with new beginnings, we pray.
Where we have lost sight of your Reign breaking in – even now at hand –
     Renew our vision.
Where we have faltered in reaching out to our neighbor in love, missing the moment to extend a hand of wholeness,
     Renew our courage.
Where we have allowed cynicism to dry our bones and sinews,
     Renew our hope.
At this beginning of a New Year, dear God, our arms are still warm from cradling the Babe of Bethlehem.
Help us to keep that memory strong.
Strengthen our arms to welcome your many children into communities of love.
Prepare our hearts to burst forth with a spring of possibilities and new life.
Stir us to be and share your love with the same vulnerability, the same humble expectation that brought you into the world in person.
Help us, your church, your disciples, to be harbingers of your reign of justice and of peace fully emerged.
O God of infinite creativity, at the beginning of this New Year, we know that you are about to do a new thing. Help us to perceive it. And to join in.
In the name of Jesus, your greatest new beginning, we pray.

May prayer be a significant part of your 2012!

Grace and Peace,